Water flooded the compartment and his body was crushed within a second. Eric knew this much was true, but not because he saw it or even really experienced it. The whole mess was over within a second and then he descended down into the depths of the Pacific ocean within the compressed hulk that was once his personal submersible. There was definitely a sharp pain in the whole process, but he couldn’t remember more than a sharp pain and then nothing. He wasn’t sure if this was because he died so quickly or because his mind was choosing not to remember the details of his last moment. Perhaps it wouldn’t matter so much on the next go around, but he hadn’t remembered much about the feeling of the first either and it had always surprised him throughout his second life.
“This is your last time, you do know that, right?” the elderly clerk sternly addressed Eric as he awoke in his rebirth chamber.
Eric was not a fan of these clerks – decrepit, old souls to scared to burn their second life for fear that some freak accident would cut it short and force them to use their third and final life without having had full use of their second. In Eric’s mind these people weren’t living anyway, so he couldn’t understand why they were so desperate to cling on to every centimetre of additional time. They just walked around reminding others that their time was short. After all, they would continually and irritatingly state, “You only get to be reborn at the age of 20 twice and then who knows what happens.”
“Are you dumb boy, answer me or I won’t discharge you. We can’t be having people running around on their third life acting like they’re still on their first. I won’t have it and my fellow clerks won’t stand for it. So answer.”
Eric drew in a deep sigh andresponded, “Yes, of course I understand.”
“Very good,” the clerk said, “then there won’t be any issues signing the relevant waivers and releases on behalf of you and your final estate?”
There had been a spate of law suits in the late 21st century where some enterprising progeny of some men who squandered their fortunes in their third and final lives sued the state and the rebirthing clerks for the sums that they deemed to be “lost” because the government and clerks hadn’t made it abundantly clear that it was their final life. The logic was sketchy at best, but there was a lot hanging on it for the government, so they took it all the way to the top courts to ensure the cases were thoroughly put to bed. Practically it was a lot of cash spent on lawyers and ushered in an era of profound bureaucracy at rebirthing centres, particularly on the final go. Eric estimated he would be stuck in here for the next couple of weeks before he could get back to his life.
Two clerks flanked Eric, backed up by military grade exoskeletons that made their frames significantly larger than their natural states, while the clerk that had spoken to him when he first awoke lead the way, dressed in a tired looking grey suit, to the so called Coffee Shop where he would sign away his estate’s right to sue the Classical Order of Rebirthing Clerks or the Government. It was funny, Eric thought, how powerful a signature can be. He didn’t agree with those who sued on this issue, but he was wary of the clerks and their ways. It was obvious to him that they could cause great harm and that they had at points in the past actually ruined people’s lives. As ever, it was difficult to quantify this loss and overcome the waivers that had formed a protective barrier around the Order, meaning that even when harm was done, there was no recourse.
“What’s your name clerk?” Eric asked out of boredom. He knew the answer, but enjoyed seeing the clerks get wound up.
“You know full well that we do not divulge such information you preposterous man.”
“Ah yes, wouldn’t want to have personal liability now would we. Never good to be held responsible for your own deeds.”
The clerk was used to nonesense such as this from people who had only lived one life and two to go, but it was rare for a Thi to act in such a way, without regard for the gravity of their situation. The average human could now live to about 200 years of age. Typically, a Fi, or first lifer, would be more reckless and end up dying somewhere between 30 – 40 and usually from an extreme sport or a lifestyle death such as an overdose or a massive heart attack. Only the most risk averse Fi’s made it any further. A second lifer was, on average, much more risk averse after they bought their first farm. Their lives started at 20 and could last to 120 if a person was careful enough. Then you had the Thi’s who mostly loved to 120 or more, with the odd person who refused to change their lifestyle after two dates with death. This man, the clerk thought, wouldn’t last long after leaving the Rebirthing Center, so he’d have to go through the whole suite of procedures.
“Precisely old man. Please take a seat.”
Eric sat down at a large white desk in a room with about twenty identical white desks. There was a woman sat down in the opposite end of the room, busily reading through and signing papers as directed by a clerk. She seemed utterly engrossed in reading every line of the forms that she appeared to be making the clerk impatient which was a rare feat indeed. Eric hoped that she was doing it on purpose. He thought for a moment and then concluded that she was probably just paranoid about being on her Thi and would in fact eventually join the Order of Rebirthing Clerks. How upsetting.
The clerk took out a file, removed an initial piece of paper and passed it across the desk to Eric. He opened his mouth to give a lengthy explanation of the form, but before he could, Eric raised his hand up to him and signed the piece of paper.
“That’s all you really want isn’t it?” Eric questioned with a smug look on his face. He clearly thought this would get him out quicker.
“For your sake, I’m afraid not old man. You need to listen and understand,” the clerk responded before picking up his mobile and calling the central administration and asking, “Can you please send down a new copy of form 1042-Thi? Thank you,” he laid down the mobile and then turned to Eric, “you must pay attention, understand and respect this process or you’ll never leave.”
A very quick calculus led Eric down the route of compliance. He’s heard stories of the clerks holding people for years and the government legislation was there to back him up. Sure, Eric had family and friends on the outside, but not with the kind of means to challenge an institution like the Order. So he conceded and spoke softly to the clerk in the honorific, “Of course, I apologise Sibling Clerk. Please explain the papers.”
“Very good,” the clerk said with a wry smile and the satisfaction of a bureaucrat that knew they held ultimate power, if only for a fleeting moment, “let us begin again properly. Form 1042-Thi lays out the details of three lives that you automatically subscribed to on birth, namely that you would be rebirthed at your 20th year old image, subtracting any genetic or other health issues that came to light in previous lives and retaining all memories. You must confirm on this form that you agree to this final subscription and have no desires for alteration (for example, a different image or for any memories to be removed).”
In his youth Eric had considered having some alterations done in each iteration. You could be rebirthed in the image of the opposite sex, but with all your memories intact or you could do the same but only retain the memories that you were on your second life and you only got one more. The possibilities were endless. Some chose to have their bodies enhanced to have a better chance at a particular sporting obsession, or to have all hurtful memories exorcised. Eric had dabbled with all of these possibilities before discovering his true obsession and passion. The one thing that required him to be him and no one else, with all of his memories intact. Not many chose this default path on the final go, even if they had family, so the clerk was surprised when Eric said, “I can confirm.”
“I see,” said the clerk, “This is quite unusual. Are you sure?”
“Yes,” Eric said as he signed the bottom of the form.
“Well, for me it will reduce paperwork in some areas, but you will need a full history and psychological work up before we can release you. Sibling, bring me a form 9999-Psy-Thi so that I can admit Mr. Eric Anglegot into our Order’s care for an evaluation.”
Eric was visibly turning red, but he kept his compusre as he desperately needed to get out and through this evaluation. He knew that in here he had no real rights. Do what the clerks say regardless of how degrading and you’ll get out where you will have rights against being detained. Those were the wise words of his attorney when he was researching what would happen on his second rebirth. There was no negotiating or arguing here so you just had to swallow the bitter pill.
The clerk stared at Eric, waiting for the indignant reaction he was expecting to come, but it didn’t. Eric just stared back, his flushed face slowly returning to its normal shade. This was a very odd case, but the clerk was stymied by the rules of the Order here. The point of the rules was to protect the order, and the people to some degree, and if this Mr. Anglegot wasn’t going to harm the Order or be used by somebody else to then there was no issue. So, his job was to root out the possibility he was keeping his calm in order to later harm the order.
“Siblings, please escort Mr. Anglegot to the Psy Ward for processing while I complete the paperwork.”
The two mechanically enhanced Siblings proceed to flank Eric and move him towards the end of the room where the woman was still sitting talking to her clerk. Eric glanced at the woman and made eye contact as they walked by. He noticed a deep pain in her eyes. She had been poring over her worst memories to have them erased and she was having difficulty resuffering these old memories. Memories that had put a man in jail and had his remaining two lives stripped away from him, as is the custom punishment for any major violent crime against another person. Hopefully the process would take those memories completely out of her, but Eric wasn’t so sure. He had heard that the process wasn’t always so full proof when erasing such traumatic memories, which is why she was still sitting their with the clerk meticulously carving out the details of the memories to be removed and filling in the relevant forms. It disgusted Eric, but he continued moving on by without skipping a beat.
Through the door was a long corridor which went up after about a hundred meters, levelled off for another hundred and then came back down as though they were crossing a road or a river. Eric thought it was probably something more like a moat, to ensure that people in the “care” of the Order stayed there.
No one openly referred to this place as a prison even though many felt that way. There was an inherent mistrust of people who wanted all of their memories from a previous life intact. For no other reason than dogmatic pigheadedness and a paranoid fear of attack, they thought that anyone who didn’t want memories erased, and therefore by their logic didn’t want anyone looking at the person’s memories for fear of something subversive being unearthed. Of course, Eric did have something to hide, but not because it posed any threat to the damn order.